Do you have a hard time saying no?

Lots of people do, including me. It must have something to do with my entrepreneurial spirit or some fear that I’ll miss out on the opportunity of a lifetime. Or maybe I’ve just got this nurturing soul deep down inside that never wants to let anyone down . . . or maybe it’s a bit of all of these things, or something else altogether.

Funny thing is, people often tell me “no” and I rarely think twice about it. “No” is a fact of life. I accept it, and simply plan around the obstacle it presents. It’s no big deal and the planet doesn’t suddenly veer off course and crash into the sun, planes don’t fall from the sky, and the oceans don’t start to boil. In fact, the world keeps on spinning just fine, and somehow I get on with my life.

So what gives?


My guess is the inability to say “no” is quite common. A little visit with my good friend Google and I find lots and lots of scholarly articles on the topic, and lots of not-so-scholarly articles. In one of the former, Psychology Today calls people who never say no, “People Pleasers.”

I’m sure you know some (I do).

These are the friends or family members you can always count on to be there to help you get your work done, to help you move, to help make all the arrangements, and offer a shoulder to lean on.

Funny thing is, Psychology Today says this behavior can ultimately be unhealthy for you. After all, if you’re always busy pleasing others, what about your needs? Who’s taking care of you?

When you’re always catering to others, when do you ever have time for yourself, mentally or physically? You don’t exercise. You don’t get good sleep. You get distracted, trying to please everyone else and do what you need to do for yourself. Your work suffers. Your home life suffers. Your health suffers. Eventually, you begin to resent others who ask you to do things for them—your boss, your spouse, your partner, or the guy or gal next door.

We could all use a little trunk monkey . . . once in a while.

It’s amazing how much chaos a simple two-letter word—or lack thereof—can cause. I guess there’s a lot more to this never saying “no” thing than I imagined.

Here are other reasons people don’t say no:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Fear of rejection
  • They don’t want to miss out
  • They don’t want to disappoint parents, spouses, siblings, friends, etc.
  • They fear failure, and saying no (in their minds) is the same as failing
  • They are prone to self-sacrifice—putting other’s needs ahead of their own
  • They are deferential to people in positions of authority

. . . and the list goes on.

I can remember how, when I was just starting out in my career, I felt as though I could never tell my bosses “no.” What would they think, that I’m some sort of slacker, that I’m not willing to give my all? “Sure I’ll stay late tonight?” I’d say or “You need that 300-page report by Monday? No sweat.”

I think we’ve all been there, and it smacks more of being a means of self-preservation (or job-preservation) rather than some deep-seated emotional issue. Similarly, in my entrepreneurial pursuits, especially early on, being a people pleaser was more about paying the bills than being submissive.

And yet, there is a lesson to be learned. When you say “yes” all the time, what does this tell others about you? Are you a pushover? Will they respect you? Will they respect your boundaries (if you even have any)? And what happens if you say “yes” to something, and then fail to deliver? Who’s to blame there?

At a minimum, if you never say “no,” you run the risk of wearing yourself to a frazzle. I know, I’ve been there. You try to do it all, but sometimes there’s just not enough time in the day or gas in the tank. Your productivity and creativity suffers, to say nothing of your typically cheery mood, and the quality of your work has nowhere to go but down.

Sometimes “no” is the best answer you can give someone, especially when you do it constructively and graciously. Don’t go overboard apologizing for why you can’t say “yes” at a particular moment in time, and never make excuses, but do make a point of thanking the person asking for your help for the opportunity, especially if it’s a client or work colleague. He or she will come away appreciating your honesty and candidness . . . and maybe, just maybe, next time you won’t have to say no because the person will have learned a little bit about your boundaries and you will have earned some respect. Sometimes pushing back can be the best thing for all involved.

What has been your experience saying “no?” Do you find it easy or is it difficult? How do you react when someone says “no” to you?

Share your thoughts here . . . and I won’t take no for an answer.